House Committee Votes for Repeal, 12-6

On Monday, April 17, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 12-6 (see tally below) in favor of an “ought to pass” recommendation on SB 593, after nearly an hour of discussion. The vote was bi-partisan. Unfortunately, a couple of our supporters in that committee were not present, or the vote would have been even stronger.  Still, this sends a powerful message to the full House before it takes up the bill next week.

To watch a video of the complete debate and vote, please click here. Read the Concord Monitor’s coverage of the vote here.

What’s next? The full House will debate and vote on the bill most likely next week. That means we have almost 400 representatives to reach. We need you to continue to reach out to your House Reps over the next week. The better our showing in the House, the more difficult it will be for the Governor to ignore the will of the people. Please visit our Letter-to-the-Editor and Write-Your-Legislator pages to take action ASAP. Thank you!

And we also need to do all that we can to encourage Governor Sununu to retreat from his promise to veto the bill should it come to his desk. Please write him as soon as possible. Our work is far from over.

We hope you will join us when the full House takes up SB593 for a large demonstration before the session, to and greet the Reps as they enter the chamber.  A strong showing of citizen report for repeal can make a real difference.

Criminal Justice Committee votes on “Ought to Pass” Motion:

Bonnie Ham R not present
Jody McNally R yes
Kate Murray D yes
Linn Opderbecke D yes
Dave Testerman R no
Scott Wallace R no
Larry Gagne R not present
Dennis Green R no
John Burt R yes
Roger Berube D yes
Delmar Burridge D yes
Shannon Chandley D yes
Renny Cushing D yes
Robert Fesh R yes
Dennis Fields R no
Carolyn Gargasz R yes
Richard O’Leary D yes
Laura Pantelakos D not present
Beth Rodd D yes
David Welch R no
Frank Sapareto R no

House Hearing shows overwhelming support for repeal

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony for nearly three hours from some two dozen witnesses on April 4, with pro-repeal speakers outnumbering anti-repeal speakers by a ratio of 7 to 1.

Pro-repeal witnesses included family members of homicide victims, criminal defense attorneys, current and former law enforcement and corrections officers, clergy members from various denominations, as well as the prime sponsor, Sen. Kevin Avard, and another senatorial sponsor, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark.

Barbara Keshen, who worked as a prosecutor in the NH Attorney General’s Office and later as a Public Defender, testified about the Elizabeth Knapp murder case, where all evidence seemed to point to a live-in boyfriend, who felt pressured to confess and would likely have been put on death row but for a single piece of DNA evidence identifying the actual perpetrator.

“The NH criminal justice system is not infallible. Mistakes have been made and will be continued to be made by well-meaning, highly trained, professional and diligent people. The risk of executing an innocent person may be small, but it is real,” Keshen said.

Richard Van Wickler, Superintendent of Cheshire County Department of Corrections, testified that New Hampshire and other US states which permit the death penalty “align themselves with the moral compass of countries like China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”

Anne Lyczak of Portsmouth NH, one of several murder victim family members who testified, summed up their consensus on this issue: “Some people argue that the death penalty will bring closure or comfort to family members, but use of the death penalty on the gunman who shot my husband would provide absolutely no benefit to me or my family.”

Former NH Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas offered his customary full-throated support of the death penalty, even offering an amendment to expand it to include hate crimes. (See his op-ed here.)

SB 593 next moves to the Executive Session the Criminal Justice Committee for a recommendation before coming before the full House of Representatives.

You can listen to the full hearing on our YouTube channel here:

Here is WMUR’s coverage of the hearing.

Here is the Concord Monitor’s coverage.

Here is US News & World Report’s (AP’s) coverage (also picked up by Seacoast Online and the Union Leader).